Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Strawson and compatibilism

P.F. Strawson makes a case for a kind of compatibilism in his 1962 essay 'Freedom and Resentment". Strawson argues that, for any discussion of human morality, determinism is in effect not significant.
In order to be treated as moral agents, we need to be said to have free will, otherwise we remain blameless for our bad actions and gain no credit for good actions.This is in fact how we all behave (unless we are mentally abnormal).

Strawson admits that he does not understand exactly what is meant by determinism, but takes the view that if it is true, it is not significant for any debate about human freedom. Hence he is in effect taking a psuedo-compatibilist stance.

One of Strawson's key points is that there are reasons for regarding praise or blame as inappropriate attitudes for people to hold about other people, but the truth of determinism is not one of those reasons and hence determinism is not significant. Determinism is never a reason for suspending our "reactive attitudes" and we cannot imagine having no reactive attitudes at all.

So in effect Strawson's approach is not to attempt to prove or disprove determinism, but to show that it is irrelevant to the discussion of human behaviour.

I agree with the thrust of Strawson's argument but he is only a psuedo-compatibilist. He does not reject determinism, he bypasses it.

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